Google Faces More EU Woes, Attorneys General Ask FTC To Revive Case In US
Renewed scrutiny of Google's publisher ad practices comes amid vertical search charges and a pending Android investigation.
The European Commission, according to Bloomberg, is taking a renewed look at Google’s advertising practices. This isn’t new, however; it’s a revived investigation from last year and comes on top of the current “vertical search” dispute and a pending investigation of Android.
The advertising practices investigation commenced in 2010, then concluded and recently restarted following the appointment of European Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager. The core issue at the center of the advertising investigation is whether Google controls or prevents online publishers from using rival advertising systems.
According to Bloomberg:
Google’s $1 billion payment to Apple Inc. to keep its search bar on the iPhone is one of the kind of exclusivity agreements regulators are looking at, one of the people said. The EU move rekindles part of a probe they first announced in 2010 into contracts with websites that shut out non-Google advertising services and deals with computer and software vendors that prevent them using other search tools.
Europe’s Android investigation has analogous elements and is likely to lead to a second “Statement of Objections” (charges). Russian competition authorities previously found that policies requiring pre-installation of Google apps such as Maps, Search and YouTube violated Russian competition law. This is the same issue that the European Commission is looking at.
Google has responded defiantly to the Commission’s charges regarding Google “search bias” in shopping search. The company argues that its search UI changes that led to the European Commission’s objections were directed toward improving the user experience. “Improving quality isn’t anti-competitive,” Google SVP and General Counsel Kent Walker has argued.
Much is at stake in the outcome of that vertical search case. If Google prevails, it will probably blunt the European Commission’s subsequent efforts to attack Google search results in other verticals (e.g., local/Maps). If, however, the Commission wins the battle, it will almost certainly mean future complaints.
Bloomberg also pointed out that freshly minted Google CEO Sundar Pichai will be meeting with Vestager this week. Much is potentially at stake in whether the two can establish a rapport.
Back in the US, the Attorneys General from Utah and Washington, DC urged the US Federal Trade Commission to reopen the antitrust investigation against Google on the same question of “search bias” (Their letter is embedded below). They argue “new information and developments” justify a new (or renewed) investigation.